ASHEBORO N.C. (NC ZOO) – The North Carolina Zoo is excited to officially announce its new male lion, Haji, has arrived.
Haji, three years old and weighing 400 pounds, came from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans as a companion for the Zoo’s female lion Mekita, 13. The Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) Lions Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommended the pairing.
Mekita’s last mate—23-year-old Reilly—died in August 2022, leaving her as the Zoo’s only lion. Reilly lived at the Zoo for 21 years, spending most of his time as Mekita’s mate. Haji was brought to the Zoo mainly as a companion for Mekita because lions are big cats that live in social groups called prides.
Although Haji arrived in December, guests could only catch a glimpse of him in the past several weeks. During that time, Haji and Mekita have been going through introductions—comparable to a chaperoned courtship—in their indoor quarters. Introducing lions to new companions and habitats can be a lengthy process.
Haji and Mekita are now on a rotating schedule where guests can see them on habitat. Guests should be able to spot Haji by his growing mane (look for his distinctive mohawk style). His mane will continue to grow and darken as he ages.
“We’re excited our guests now get to see Haji more often,” said Jennifer Ireland, the Zoo’s Curator of Mammals. “We’re giving Haji more time to explore his new habitat to help establish his territory. It takes a lot of time and patience to work with big cats. Right now, they can see and smell each other.”
Ireland said Haji and Mekita would eventually be able to roam the habitat together as they become more comfortable with each other.
“We are seeing some positive signs in their introductions, such as vocalizations to each other,” she said.
Lion prides in the wild comprise a dominant male, several females, and their offspring. They may sleep up to 20 hours per day. Lions are native to the savannahs and grasslands of Africa and can reach speeds up to 50 mph for very short bursts.
A lion’s average lifespan in the wild is about 10-15 years. Male lions under human care have a median life expectancy of 17 years. Males can weigh up to 570 pounds, while females weigh up to 277 pounds.
African lions are listed as “Vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with populations continuing to decrease due to habitat loss and poaching. An estimated 23,000 to 39,000 lions remain in the wild
Lions, in particular, have suffered due to poaching, unintentional snaring, and retaliation for livestock predation. The North Carolina Zoo actively supports conservation efforts across Africa, including implementing SMART-based monitoring systems that assist with anti-poaching efforts to help protect lions in areas critical for their survival.
Source: Press Release – NC Zoo